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Oilers start homestand against revived Red Wings

by Matthew Mankiewich
RED WINGS (34-23-12) vs. OILERS (21-42-7)
Last 10 -- Detroit 7-2-1; Edmonton 2-7-1

Season series --
Seems like a different season, it's definitely a different team. The Red Wings and Oilers have met twice this campaign, way back on Oct. 29 and Dec. 3, and both games went Edmonton's way. The Wings haven't lost three in a row to the Oilers since they lost 13 straight to them from March 19, 1983 to March 11, 1987. For all their woes this season, the Oilers have won four of their last six at home.

Big story --
The long-awaited resurgence has come and the Red Wings are playing like themselves once again. Since an embarrassing 6-3 loss to the Canucks in the second game out of the Olympic break, they've won five of six -- the lone loss at the hands of the pursuing Calgary Flames, which was then avenged on Monday. They go into action a point ahead of those Flames in the eighth spot in the Western Conference and three points behind Nashville for seventh.

Team scope:

Red Wings --
Faced with a possible tie with the Flames Monday night for the final playoff spot, the Wings clamped down on Calgary's power play and opened up some breathing room with a 2-1 win. Tomas Holmstrom staked a claim in front of Miikka Kiprusoff and redirected a Johan Franzen slap shot into the net with 1:19 left for the game winner.

That opened up a three-point gap between hunter and hunted, cut back to one on Wednesday with Calgary's victory over Colorado. They matched their longest winning streak of the season at three games, and look to extend it to a fourth.

"We know how important (Friday's) game is," defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom told the Detroit Free Press. "We know we still have to play with desperation."
Oilers --
It's one game at a time these days for the last-place team in the NHL, mathematically eliminated from the playoffs on their last road trip. About all they can do now is secure jobs for next year and try to make life miserable for everyone else. Ending a five-game skid wouldn't hurt either.

Three of the four teams coming to Rexall Place on the Oilers' upcoming four-game homestand have something to play for and a loss could make things rather dicey. The Wings need to hold off the Flames and every other team with a shot. San Jose, Sunday's opponent, is locked in a struggle for top seed with the Blackhawks and the Canucks are trying to keep third seed as Northwest Division leader away from the upstart Avalanche.

"That's the silver lining in this year," defenseman Ryan Whitney told the Canadian Press. "You can be a spoiler.

"The way I look at it, Detroit's in a dogfight for the eighth spot. They come in here and play the 30th-place team and lose, imagine how good we'd feel. You take little victories like that as a sign you want to be here, you want to be playing. This is our chance to be in a playoff game. I think you have to look at it like that."

Who's hot --
Here's a case of one hot player making the ones around him hot as well. Franzen's return to form is well-documented. In the 11 games since his return, Franzen has nine points. Linemate Pavel Datsyuk has six goals and six assists in that frame. And the third member of the line, Holmstrom, has 10 points in his last 10 games.

"Pav is not the easiest guy to play with," goalie Chris Osgood told the Free Press. "He does a lot of different things that some other players obviously can't do, and Mule (Franzen) really reads off him really well and does things that help Pavel as well. They are a real potent combination for us."

Injury report --
Detroit left winger Kirk Maltby (shoulder) is now on long-term injured reserve after right shoulder surgery which will keep him out four to six weeks, leaving any chance of a return dependent on a deep playoff run. … Oilers center Patrick O'Sullivan (hand) has missed three games and remains questionable.

Stat pack -- Special teams drive the Winged Wheel these days. Detroit has converted 12 of its last 36 power plays, scoring at least one man-up goal in 10 straight games. They've also killed 10 straight short-handed opportunities over their last six contests, and have held opponents to a 3-for-49 success rate over their last 16 games. Starting Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard has a 1.33 goals-against average over their three-game streak, but a 4.32 GAA against the Oilers in the two losses. The Red Wings have made the playoffs 17 straight seasons for the longest active postseason streak in professional sports.

Puck drop --
"If we play good, we're going to get into the playoffs, so that's what we try to do. What I like is, I think we've won seven of our last nine. It looks like we're going in the right direction." -- Red Wings coach Mike Babcock on the team's recent play.

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